Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sewall, Samuel

SEWALL, SAMUEL (1652–1730), colonist and judge, son of Henry Sewall and Jane, daughter of Stephen Dummer, was born at Bishopstoke, Hampshire, on 28 March 1652. Emigrating in childhood with his parents to Newbury, Massachusetts, he was educated at a private school and at Harvard, entering in 1667, and graduating B.A. in 1671 and M.A. in 1674. He was then ordained minister, but on his marriage in 1677 was induced to leave that calling, and, under the patronage of his father-in-law, started a printing-press at Boston. He soon became known in public life, and in 1684 was elected a member of the court of assistants for Massachusetts. In 1688 he came to England on business. In 1692 Sewall, as a justice of the peace, was concerned in adjudicating in the Salem witchcraft case, but afterwards bitterly repented of his share in the proceedings, and publicly announced the fact, henceforward spending one day annually in fasting and prayer. He afterwards became one of the regular judges of Massachusetts, and in 1718 chief justice. He retired in 1728, and died at Boston on 1 Jan. 1730.

Sewall married, on 28 Feb. 1676, Hannah, daughter of John Hull and Judith Quincy. He left a long line of descendants, the ‘loyalist’ branch of which changed the spelling of the name to ‘Sewell’ [see under Sewell, Jonathan]. Sewall's diary, an interesting and valuable source for the social history of the colony from 1674 to 1729, was first published in the ‘Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society,’ 5th ser. vol. v. An engraving, from a supposed original portrait (date and artist unknown), forms the frontispiece. Sewall was also author of a pamphlet against slavery, entitled ‘The Selling of Joseph’ (1700).

[Sewall's Letters and Diaries; Appleton's Cyclopædia of American Biography.]

C. A. H.